Kristen Gyles | Fathers Are Not ‘Backups’ For Mothers

By Jamaica Gleaner,

The fatherlessness epidemic that has plagued the black community had its genesis during the transatlantic slave trade, when many black fathers were deliberately separated from their children. The idea, then, was to break the West African people by destroying the most basic unit of their society – the family.

Obviously, without any parental guidance or support whatsoever, it wouldn’t be long before the first generation of youth, lacking in purpose and identity, would emerge.

From that point onwards, the defeat of the enslaved was a done deal. The issue of ‘missing dads’ has had pervading effects that have rippled through our society from then until now and will continue until something changes.

As a country, we seem to always be trying to combat the most far-reaching problems with Band-Aid solutions without giving thought to the depth of certain societal issues and how far their roots actually run.

I believe unequivocally that were we to tackle the issue of fatherlessness in Jamaica, we would see significant change in the behaviour of our young people and the crime monster would lose its teeth. It is not natural for one parent to carry the full load of child-rearing on their own and we should not be seeking to normalise this practice or to treat it as given.

Both a mother and a father are needed biologically in order for a child to come into existence. It shouldn’t be hard, then, for us to accept the concept of both the mother and father having a role to play in the development of the same child after birth.

With that said, when are we going to stop treating fathers like ‘backups’ for mothers? They are not deputy or assistant parents and they are not a contingency plan for whenever the going gets tough for mom.

Fathers are parents in their own right – just like mothers. Fathers are needed – just like mothers. They should and must be involved in the everyday life of the child – just like mothers. They should and must make the sacrifices needed for the child’s development – just like mothers.


Our culture is one in which many fathers feel a great sense of accomplishment in being able to say they carried their kids out for ice cream ‘one day last week’ or they sent ‘a thing’ for the child to go to school, which is really not very surprising, since this is exactly what we have come to expect of fathers – not much.

Jamaican men, by and large, will never collectively live up to their true duties as fathers until as a society we start expecting them to. We can’t keep expecting the bare minimum of fathers and then wonder why so many continue to do the bare minimum.

It has become the norm in many households for mom to function as superwoman, running around doing every thinkable thing that needs to be done in and outside the house every day, while dad pops in on special occasions, obviously to check up on how well (or poorly) mom is doing.

No wonder so many children grow up with such little sense of indebtedness to their fathers. The psychosocial implication of this culture is that the presence of a father in the home is more of a luxury than a necessity.

I, therefore, can’t say I’m surprised that this country places such little importance on fathers being allocated time off from work to bond with their children at birth and to pull their fair share of the weight where taking care of the baby is concerned. After all, what weight?

I’ve had conversations with men who ask the question, “What is there for a father to do at home when he is on paternity leave, anyway?”

What is really at the root of this unfortunate question is the notion that while maternity leave is crucial for the development of the young child, paternity leave is simply vacation time.

What nonsense!

Any father who has a newborn who can’t understand why there would ever be a need to take time from work to assist in caring for the child is simply not very involved as a dad.

Many persons continue to recycle the argument that too many men will abuse their paternity leave. This issue has never before been raised in relation to mothers, of course. Again, the cycle of paternal negligence and indifference will only change when we start expecting better of our fathers.

Additionally, it can never be right to deny someone of a right on the basis that they may abuse it! It is like a company insisting that they will stop granting sick leave because too many workers abuse it. The fact would still remain that persons do get sick, and will therefore need time off from work.


The idea that a father should only have access to paternity leave if he lives with the mother is one that has puzzled and confused me, though in all honesty, has not surprised me. The notion is perfectly in keeping with our culture.

No father is excused from his responsibility to his child simply because he is not in a relationship with the child’s mother. The issue of whether or not the father lives with, speaks with, sleeps with or associates with the child’s mother should never be used to obscure the father’s responsibility to make arrangements to spend time with his child.

Parents must learn that when they welcome a child into the world, all other issues take the back seat, including any ongoing grouse that the man has with his baby’s mother. Regardless of the type of relationship he has with the child’s mother, he is still a father and has not only a right but a duty to his child.

It is interesting, though, that mothers will never have to demonstrate that they live with the father of their child in order to get maternity leave. Once again, we treat fathers as if they are a different species of parent for which a completely different set of standards should apply. Fathers should not have to fight to play an involved role in their children’s lives.

We complain that fathers are not doing enough as parents but yet we continue to put barricades in their way to make it harder for them to do more. It is also critical to note that when fathers are afforded paternity leave, mothers benefit through increased support – not only support in taking care of the baby, but support through the recovery process after delivery.

The question of whether men should have a right to paternity leave is impatient of debate. May our lawmakers move away from discussing and debating this ridiculous question and get to planning the particulars of how to implement a system in which fathers can get access to the paternity leave that is due to them.